Flexible solar panels can be a great sustainable energy option, especially for mobile setups like vans and recreational vehicles. However, they can also be a little tricky to maintain, especially when it comes to keeping flexible solar panels cool.
To give you a hand, we’ve put together a helpful guide on how to keep flexible solar panels cool and protected from becoming overheated. In this guide, we will cover:
- Causes of flexible solar panels overheating
- Why overheating damages solar panels
- Strategies to keep flexible solar panels cool
Keeping your solar panels cool is an essential measure for protecting them—read on to find out the best practices for taking care of your flexible solar panels.
Can Flexible Solar Panels Overheat?
Although solar panels are most effective when positioned to get as much sun exposure as possible, the constant sunlight will generate a large amount of heat, especially in areas with a hot climate.
A combination of high temperatures and lack of airflow can cause the flexible solar panels to retain too much heat, leading to permanent internal damage to the solar panels.
Heat and UV Degradation
Solar panels need sunlight to work but are vulnerable to heat damage. Unfortunately, with sunlight usually comes a significant amount of heat. This fact makes overheating a pretty substantial risk when maintaining solar panels.
After prolonged use and exposure to sunlight, flexible solar panels will likely experience both heat damage and UV degradation.
The harsh chemical effects of UV rays can damage the laminate layer on the solar panels, altering the color and giving the lamination a cloudy appearance. So in addition to the heat damage, the discolored plastic will block out sunlight and reduce the effectiveness of the solar panels.
Solar panels are also prone to overheating when there isn’t enough airflow between the panels and the surface on which they are mounted.
Overheating is especially a risk for flexible solar panels, which are less rigid and can bend to match the curvature of a roof. While this makes flexible solar panels convenient, it also dramatically reduces the flow of air between the panel and the roof.
Does Overheating Damage Flexible Solar Panels?
In short, yes. Overexposure to heat and UV rays can have lasting damage to the functionality and efficiency of the cells that make up the solar panels.
Solar panels have similar traits to other electronics, including the basic rule that increased heat will reduce the amount of power output. The warmer the solar panels get, the less power they will be able to produce.
Letting the solar panels overheat can lead to damaged solar cells, which are called hotspots. These hotspots will decrease the overall efficiency of the panel, reduce the energy output, and cause other long-term negative effects.
Effects of UV Degradation and Hotspots
The hotspots can contribute to the degradation of the laminated layer, causing further damage to the panel. Hotspots can also create microcracks, tiny fractures in the solar cells that will shorten the lifespan of a solar panel.
If the solar panel has hotspots, it likely also has damage from overexposure to UV rays. The issues from the warped and cracked solar cells will be exacerbated by a laminated layer that is cloudy, yellow, and starting to peel off.
With all this in mind, it becomes evident that knowing how to keep flexible solar panels cool is essential to making them last.
How Do You Keep Solar Panels Cool?
Luckily, there are several different methods for keeping flexible solar panels cool. Most strategies focus on conducting heat away from the panels and increasing airflow.
Depending on someone’s needs and level of technical skill, any of these options should be a helpful solution for keeping flexible solar panels cool and protected.
Before getting into the strategies for keeping solar panels cool, it’s worth mentioning that the lifespan and efficiency of flexible solar panels are heavily impacted by the quality. Investing in higher-quality flexible solar panels will help ensure that they last longer and are less likely to be damaged from overheating or UV degradation.
Use a Substrate
One helpful method to keep flexible solar panels cool is to use a thermally conductive substrate. By having a layer underneath the solar panels that can conduct heat, the heat will be vented and diverted away from the glass layers of the solar panel that are vulnerable to becoming overheated.
Using a simple cement or back sheet layer underneath the flexible solar panel, the risk of the solar panel overheating can go down significantly, with most of the heat being conducted through the substrate material instead of the solar panel itself.
Elevate the Solar Panels
Layers really do matter here. In addition to using underlying layers to conduct heat, layers will also keep the solar panel elevated off of the roof and allow for increased airflow.
If you use layers of thin aluminum, you can keep the solar panel a few inches elevated from the roof, keeping the heat of the roof separate from the solar panel and providing a nice current of free air to keep the panel cool.
Avoid installing the flexible panels directly onto the roof without a layer in between—the panel will end up absorbing all the heat from the roof, and with no airflow underneath, will likely overheat.
Set Up a Ventilation System
This is a slightly more technically complicated method, but there is also the option of setting up fans, valves, or a ventilation system to have a nice airflow constantly going to keep the flexible solar panels cool.
Install a Ground Mounting System
It may be worth considering setting up a ground mounting system for solar panels. Temperatures are cooler closer to the ground, and having an option for the panels to be lower down will give them a greater opportunity to cool off when in a hot climate.